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Neil Fraser checks charter progress
09 June 2008

Work seems to be steaming ahead regarding the Inner City Charter, with 86 percent of commitments achieved so far.

Neil Fraser
Neil Fraser

THE third Inner City Partnership Forum meeting was held on Tuesday, 3 June. The forum is a product of the Inner City Charter and is an opportunity for civil society to come together quarterly with the council, led by the mayor, to receive progress reports on the extensive commitments contained in the charter and generally to raise issues of concern or delight.

I say "delight" because it is important that one gets beyond the constant whinging and shows appreciation for what is actually being achieved, which appears considerable. The brief report back from the inner city programme manager, Yael Horowitz, showed encouraging progress - 86 percent of commitments to the end of March had been achieved. It was a brief report because she had just returned from overseas two days prior to the meeting - how is it that the female sex can look so good after interminable intercontinental flights and six hours of time change while men look chagrined and crumpled?

It was a good meeting with a distinctly positive feel. The mayor made some critical comments regarding the recent xenophobia, reminding the gathering that as a city we have a strong history and a practice of living with and assimilating migrants - in-migration would not stop, he said, and we needed to ensure that we led from best practice and integrated all into our communities. He expressed his and the council's appreciation for those individuals and organisations that had tried to make those displaced as comfortable as possible and said that the full council had distanced itself from any form of violence.

From the time that the Inner City Charter Partnership Forum was envisaged and, more particularly at the previous meeting held on 4 March 2008, the intent of the forum's terms of reference have been under scrutiny and debate. In particular, issues such as the forum's decision-making ability; how its working groups will function; what the meaning of a "real partnership" is; how to monitor and, if necessary, have recourse against non-delivery, have been the subject of much discussion.

Agreement was reached at this session that the forum is not a decision-making structure of any organisation or partners represented on the forum but, notwithstanding this, "the forum may make decisions, reached through discussion, debate and agreement which decisions will have a strong mandatory effect on all partners."

Working groups
Working groups and special working groups to focus on specific issues will be established and will be required to "report back to the charter partnership forum on the substance and conclusions of any discussions" and, where decisions on specific issues are required, special working groups will report decisions back to the forum.

A two-stage independent assessment process will be adopted, with a "neutral and independent specialist" who will review evidence of progress and make a conclusive determination on whether progress has, in fact, been made against charter commitments. All these various proposals were approved at Tuesday's meeting and will now be built into the terms of reference.

If you'd like a copy of the terms of reference, drop me a line and I'll let you have one. Also, if you'd like to take part in a satisfaction survey, which is to test the level of satisfaction with the role and functioning of the forum, let me know as well.

The meeting positively received a fine preliminary presentation by Kagiso Urban Management on the proposed major revamp to the urban environment of the retail improvement district, which will have a strong impact on what I call midtown. It will commence from July onwards as a partnership between business and the council. There will also be further consultation with various stakeholders before the final plan is approved.

Challenges
However, two inputs from the floor reminded everyone of the magnitude of the challenges still facing inner city revitalisation. The first came from one of the longest serving "urban activists" in the city, architect Robin Fee, whose involvement goes back to the 1960s. Fee pointed out "four disgraceful" issues. There are actually six in all:

  • The main entrance to the city via the Nelson Mandela Bridge has one leaving the constantly improving Braamfontein end and landing in a complete mess on the other side in Newtown. I know that the chairman of the Johannesburg Development Agency suggested some years ago that this become a notable "gateway" to the city and Fee's reminder is a timeous one.
  • The disgusting state of Ntemi Piliso Street (previously West Street) is particularly important because of the new presence of a number of corporates clustering in this area which will increase pedestrian and vehicle flows. Possibly this will be taken into account in the planned revamp of the Diagonal Street precinct.
  • The non-defined relationship between the Gauteng provincial government and the council has resulted in the appalling state of Beyers Naude Square and the Rissik Street Post Office. While I have "unofficially" been told that plans are well advanced for these areas, they are of such central and historic importance to the city that it would be good for their future development to be placed on the public table for scrutiny. In a separate discussion to that of the forum meeting, the issue of how the province has such a large influence on Beyers Naude Square was raised. It is acknowledged that the Harry Hofmeyr parking garage (which is in quite an awful state at present) was evidently purchased by the province, but the question remains as to how the square itself, the city's public open space, can be controlled by the province.
  • The last issue is sky-signage and building wraps. I've also raised this before and it certainly is something on which we need more clarity.

"If we do everything else we are talking about and don't attend to these," Fee said, "we will be like the ugly sisters in Cinderella leaving the mess to be cleaned up to someone else while they rush off to the ball!" Nice one, and very true. There are still a large number of Cinderella situations in the city that need some TLC.

The second major issue raised was regarding the continuing non-performance of the metro police as regards the inner city. Its lack of a presence in relation to by-law enforcement and particularly its disinterest in managing the growing traffic congestion in the city was again highlighted. One of many examples that I can also attest to, is the intersection of Rissik and De Villiers streets, where combi taxis in both directions on De Villiers Street constantly jump the traffic lights and block the northern flow of traffic up Rissik Street.

As part of the protocol of the forum, these issues will be dealt with at its next meeting.

Fee could have added another issue to his list, one close to his heart through his original involvement in its design and construction - the Carlton Centre. I received this email from a Citichat reader last week: "I took advantage of a day off work recently to spend some time in the city centre and was tremendously impressed by the progress being made.

"My one disappointment was the Carlton Centre. While the shopping centre is clean (and throngs with shoppers), and the parkade and office tower are well used, I do not believe the Carlton is being used to anywhere near its true potential. I understand that Transnet wishes to dispose of the Carlton - a good idea, I think, since a seasoned property company would better utilise and develop the asset. I was under the impression that this would happen soon, but have heard nothing since the initial announcement. Has Transnet changed its mind?"

Good question - what a tragedy if what was once hailed as the beacon of hope in the inner city turns into the opposite, with the rest of the inner resuscitated around it.

Midtown Meander
I continued my driving tour of parts of the city this week - this time "midtown" from Ntemi Piliso Street in the west to End Street in the east and President to Wolmarans streets south to north.

I am not going to give street by street comments, but rather some overall impressions. Firstly, this area is the "gritty" centre of the city, particularly as one moves east. It pumps people in endless flows - ever tried driving across the pedestrian crossing in Pritchard Street between the Smal Street Mall and the Methodist Church, even when the light is in your favour? People just spill across the street. We really are a city of incredibly undisciplined pedestrians, and I include myself as one of those.

Since the upgrading of Pritchard Street in front of the high court there seems to be an increase in illegal parking, particularly in Pritchard at the east end of the court, which causes added chaos to that area. In fact, traffic in the midtown area has become positively diabolical. And much of this is for the very reason raised at the charter forum meeting - lack of metro police officers.

In President, Pritchard, Jeppe, Bree and Plein streets, loading bays are generally used exclusively by illegally parked cars, which results in an enormous amount of double-parking for vehicles that are trying to offload (and shoppers dodging into retailers to get something). In President Street a huge pantechnicon was double parked on the left-hand side of the street to unload its cargo, while 30 metres further on the right the same situation was repeated, which resulted in the street effectively closing down to a single lane. And there was not a cop in sight.

Kerk Street's linear market has strings of cars illegally parked down its length. Add to the resultant chaos combi taxis, and it becomes diabolical. So many of the combi taxi drivers have no consideration for other traffic nor for pedestrians. Many sections of pavements in "east midtown" are cluttered beyond belief with informal traders and stacks of refuse. That the city is alive and pumping there is no doubt, but it could do with some authority to bring order to the confusion. We seem to have generally lost respect for each other and behave just as we want to and to hell with the consequences.

Street signage
Again, I found a significant absence of street signage - there are more "no-name" intersections than those that are signed! It suddenly struck me that we once had street names on both poles and curbs - with all the road widening and curb replacement, I don't see new curb signage. Surely a good time to introduce some new form of street identification - I've seen concrete curbs overseas with street names recessed into the face, sometimes the letters are left bare, others are painted or the recesses filled with brass - not that I'm suggesting that here, but I did see brass inlaid names on the top "surface" of pavement corners in Seattle, which is useful for pedestrians.

What about every corner section throughout the city being designated a corner through the use of granite curbs with the street names carved into the stone? Cost? Negligible in relation to what we are spending on widening streets for the Bus Rapid Transit and the new pavement programmes. There is no maintenance and lots of job creation that could be stretched over a number of years. And, we'd have permanent street names!

Compared to such a drive 10 years ago, when almost every building in midtown looked unloved and uncared for, now, in every street there are a growing number of buildings that have either had their external façades cleaned or repainted. Unfortunately, that often shows up the decay of their neighbours even more than normal but I think we need a by-law that requires everyone to clean up their facades before 2010!

I'm not looking to "sanitise" the city but, man, we have some incredibly beautiful buildings in this city but you only really appreciate them, like Cher, when they are face-lifted or made over! Otherwise they merge into the general drabness of the cityscape.

I commented a couple of weeks back on the ubiquitous City Props signs, but between it and Afhco it's more like a rash across the city - a good rash showing the pulse of change and all their buildings are being beautifully restored. City Props has also introduced some real quality retail back into its buildings, which is so encouraging at street level. Other buildings, now getting fewer in number, are positively disgusting. I think I'm going to do a meander to "name and shame" the culprits one of these days.

The area around Joubert Park/Union Gardens is indescribable - the sheer volume of people, combi taxis, hawkers (and dirt) is staggering. Talk about energy pumping! Added to all this, however, is the fact that almost all the roads in this area are being widened and it is utter chaos.

Metro police
Back to the issue of the visibility of the metro police. In two-and-a-half hours of driving the streets of midtown I saw the following: after an hour and a quarter I saw a Johannesburg metro police van driving through the fashion district. Later, as I was turning to drive north up Rissik Street, a bakkie had broken down in the middle lane - a metro police vehicle drove past, leaving the bakkie and the ensnarled traffic to sort itself out.

Traffic lights were not working at four major intersections in the city but I saw no officers. And then, voila, there was a large detachment of metro police officers on motorbikes, about 12 in all, screeching down Pritchard Street, sirens blaring, escorting a South African Police Service van clearly conveying prisoners from the high court. However dangerous the criminals being transported might be, 12 escorts when the city is gridlocked because of double parking and combi taxis jumping traffic lights, blocking the normal flow of traffic, and four sets of traffic lights completely dead, seems weird!

In my last meander I mentioned the pole in Harrison Street that had been knocked over and had been lying flat on the pavement for a number of weeks or months. It's gone! Hallelujah! I'm not naïve enough to think it was the power of the pen but what I found interesting is that five metres away from where it was flattened on the pavement is a parking meter on a pole that stands at 45 degrees to the pavement. It probably was bent like that in the same incident that flattened the no parking pole for it has been like that for the same length of time. It still stands! Different departments? Strange!

Want to learn more about our great city? The Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust has a great programme for June. See below, ciao, Neil

Marshalltown and Gandhi Square
Saturday, 21 June
This walking tour starts with some fragments rescued from the demolition of MacPhail's corner tower and the Jewish Chronicle, but others are in fine condition - Magnet House, Tattersalls and National Union of Mineworkers. We pass the receiver of revenue's old office, trimmed in polished granite, and then on to the Old Marshall Street Charge Office, which was gutted by fire.

Around historic Gandhi Square we pay our respects, then walk round to Fox Street for Salisbury House; back to Rissik Street, Bram Fischer House and crown the tour with art deco elegance in Loveday Street. The cost is R135 and booking is at Computicket.

Park at Nedbank's employee parking, a fenced open parking on the south side of the big Nedbank block, between Loveday and Rissik streets. Entrance is in Marshall Street, at 2pm. For information, telephone Eira Bond on weekdays between 9am and 1pm on 011 482 3349.

Randlords and Finance - Parktown
Saturday, 28 June
Upon the discovery of gold, an elite group of capitalists from the Kimberley

diamond mines set up finance to become the shareholders of new mines on the Rand. Through industrial consolidation, these entrepreneurs became influential mine owners. The profits generated benefited them with government support, and even political control.

Earnings were also invested for international trade development, resulting in the listing of several companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. These events paved the way for these men ultimately to be known as The Randlords. Their aspirations and achievements are reflected in the homes they built. The cost of this walking tour is R70, and booking is at Computicket. For information, telephone Eira Bond on weekdays between 9am and 1pm on 011 482 3349.

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Last Updated on 09 June 2008